Sending kids off to summer camp is emotionally tough on parents, even if it’s not your first time. It’s normal to be concerned about your children’s physical and emotional well-being, but excessive worrying is unproductive and stressful.
According to researchers, children may observe and mimic parents’ discussion of worries.1 And when parents frequently provide verbal warnings, for example “be careful,” children may anticipate danger and fear certain situations. Kids that had less of a say in whether or not they’d be attending summer camp, also demonstrated higher separation anxiety.2
Summer camp shouldn’t be a scary thing for you or your child. When children go to summer camp, they experience some of the greatest maturation of their lives, and often return home stronger, healthier and more independent.3
Here are some tips to help parents manage their own anxieties and fears about sending their kids to summer camp:
- Stop dwelling on possible difficulties. Don’t ignore possible difficulties, but dwelling on them only makes you feel more helpless. In addition, your child may sense your anxiety and start worrying as well. Worrying stems from uncertainty. Thus, anything you do to reduce uncertainty will help decrease your anxiety.
- Worrying distorts reality. The more you fret about low-probability disasters, the more real they seem and the more anxious you become. Therefore, make sure you get the facts. Instead of anticipating the least probable, make plans for the most probable.
- Reassurances can backfire. Unless your child mentions anxiety about camp, avoid spur-of-the-moment comments like, “Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.” This will only imply that there’s something to worry about.
- Know the facts and make a plan. Identify possible challenges (e.g. broken leg, family member illness, storms) and decide specifically what you will do if something happens. Having a plan to put in place as needed can be a source of comfort because you are prepared.
It’s important to remember what you are facing is normal; feelings of anxiety are expected. If you need more support than just your family and friends, psychologists can help. As experts in human behavior, they help people manage life's challenges. They can help you to successfully navigate through this and other concerns.
This Help Center article was adapted from a June 2012 post by Pauline Wallin, PhD, on APA’s Your Mind Your Body Blog. Ron Palomares, PhD, also assisted with this article.
- Fisak, B., & Grills-Taquechel, A. E. (2007). Parental modeling, reinforcement, and information transfer: Risk factors in the development of child anxiety. Clinical Child and Family Psychology, 10, 213–231.)
- Festa, C. C., & Ginsburg, G. S. (2011). Parental and peer predictors of social anxiety in youth. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 42, 291–306.
- Thompson, M. (2012). What Camp Staff Can Do to Help Children: An Excerpt from Homesick and Happy. The Camping Magazine, 85, 32.